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FINALLY. It’s March. Finally, it’s tournament time. Finally, a chance for teams to shine in the postseason, or will they? I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of and work in a conference that, by definition alone, is arguably one of the best conferences in college basketball. The Big East Tournament in New York is something that makes me shake my head in disbelief that anyone can question how amazing the overall strength of the conference. For those that have never been, the World’s Most Famous arena isn’t THAT different from arenas you might be used to. It’s the history and tradition of the building including, who has performed and played there, that defines what it is. There is just something about that place that makes the hallowed hallways give you goosebumps.
This past week was amazing, and for the others that had the pleasure of attending, whether as a fan or media, or even watching on television, will unanimously agree. Upon arriving in NYC and getting credentials for the tournament, my brothers, Dad and myself immediately run into John Paquette, Big East Associate Commissioner of Communications who is walking with Art Hyland, Supervisor of Officials. Exchanging hellos, we then run into Lisa Zenecchia, the executive assistant to Paquette who has been working the tournament since it had been moved from Providence, RI, then Syracuse, then Hartford, Conn. to finally NY at Madison Square Garden. where it has been since ’83. Wow. It’s amazing to think how many incredible games have been played over the years.
I’m not going to bore you with the recaps of all the games, because there are statistics for that, We all know what happened. But, if you want to learn more about the Men’s Basketball Big East conference results go here. Unfortunately, Georgetown was cut early in the tournament on the second day - but I was able to experience the rest of the tournament from an in-the-trenches point-of-view. With so many amazing teams, it felt like a mini-NCAA tournament, but played in five days. Thrilling for anyone, especially with those buzzer beater games. As my friend Simon, a Georgetown alum (@si_nurse) says, “it’s just one quadrant of the NCAA, it’s simply amazing.” Not only is it difficult to play two games in a row, but five? UConn beats out the likes of Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia? Incredible. Oh yeah, and only two words come to mind to sum up the tournament: Kemba Walker.
The guy is amazing, a ball of energy, going 100 percent for 40 minutes a game. I really hope he sleeps til the tournament, though. They’ll need it. A downside of playing in an “NCAA”-like tournament is having to do it again, with only a few days in between to rest. Then gearing up and trying to win another 11 games to win a national championship. Sounds easy right? Nope. Not even close, regardless how “easy” the bracket road might seem (I hear you, Duke fans).
Things have changed from last year’s tournament, however. Although it was a nicer area for the credentialed staff to work and eat, the new construction of the building sent the media down a floor, and much further away from the court. It was not as convenient as having everything right behind media row, like last year. The postgame press conferences were the only things held directly opposite of team benches. I also noticed the changes in marketing and sponsorship. Sunkist and Reese’s were major sponsors again, having half time ball shootouts with fans hoping to win free Reese’s peanut butter cups for a year (um, yes please). But last year New York Life insurance was a major sponsor, while this past year was American Eagle Outfitters. Why? My assumption is that with such a strong field, targeting a younger generation, especially willing young alumni, was more beneficial than the older demographic, (or “suits” as I like to call it) that we would often see at the Garden in the past. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, but I thought the tournament changeover went rather smoothly. ESPN3D also broadcasted all the games which was really fun to watch. The cameras were intricate, complete with two men controlling it, one camera operator, and the other looking pretty much like a Ghostbuster with all the wires and cords connected to the backpack he wore.
We saw other changes this year as well: the officiating. There has been a lot of talk about it, which resulted in three of the tournament referees voluntarily withdrawing after officiating the St. John’s/Rutgers game. We as the viewing audience, NCAA organization, players and coaches and media have to put a lot of trust into the officiating of a game, and hope that it is done correctly. Mistakes happen from time to time, but veterans? Google them. Their track records have kept them around for a long time. Nonetheless, they missed two critical calls that, when looking at the replay, should have seemed like an easy decision to make. A travel and stepping out of bounds with 1.7 seconds to go.
I wonder if this would be a huge issue if it wasn’t a game-changing call. But isn’t that what makes it so fun? There is still plenty to look into with this and how to prevent it from happening in the future. I’m sure officiating for the tournament will be checked, checked and rechecked again.
It was wonderful running into old friends and meeting new ones. The new blood of sports writers and media really make me thank my lucky stars to be able to be a part of this exciting sports and entertainment field, not to mention really excited for what the future brings. Also I want to thank Brian Prioleau (and his wife Tina) for their AMAZING hospitality this past week. Brian, you made the tournament experience what it was, and I thank you.
By the way, whose idea was it to have Nick Lachey sing a song at the end of the tournament? Called “Last One Standing”, I actually like the beat … but the voice botched the glory and strength of the tournament. Just like my view on Jennifer Hudson’s version of One Shining Moment; if you’re going to do it, do it right. Bring back Teddy or Luther. (You can listen to Nick’s song here. and Jennifer’s version here.)
Championship season so far has been nothing short of amazing. I only hope that the NCAA tournament can be equally as fun to watch. There are so many factors that go into postseason play games, and rooting for the underdog seems to be the popular choice over the past several years. 104-0 is the record that a No. 1 seed has never lost in the history of the NCAA tournament in the first round. That’s quite the statistic, and makes an interesting point. It could be that the first rounds are incredibly boring, or it could be that the games kill all of our brackets in one fall swoop. Stressful for anyone involved on the operational side of the games. Photographers, beat writers, analysts, arena staff and crew have deadlines that must be met. It’s the most stressful and exciting time of year.
We’re just days away from the Big Dance, gambling and pools and some amazing highlights and records beaten. I will be working the NCAA tournament rounds here in Washington, D.C. and hope to be able to share an insider look from there as well. I cannot wait to see the drama unfold. Four networks this year: CBS, TNT, TruTV and TBS. Like I had said to friends earlier in the week, March (and my life right now) is defined by a specific dimension of 94 by 50 feet. Embrace the madness.